Many people would say they’re good listeners, but are they really? Mindtools’ research suggests that we’re not very good at all. Apparently we only remember about 25-50% of what we hear. So if you’re in an important 30 minute meeting with your boss or with a client, you might only remember 7.5-15 minutes of the conversation.
Yet listening is one of our most important skills. We use it to:
- Obtain information that might be useful to us;
- Empathise and understand others;
- Enjoy the company of our friends, family and colleagues;
- Learn from other people.
Listening is essential
So, if you forget or don’t manage to hear the most important points made in a discussion, particularly in a business context, this could make the difference between success and failure. You need to listen in order to be able to gain information from other people, to empathise, to understand them, to learn, but also to communicate and persuade them. That’s why the process of negotiation starts with having an open-minded attitude, as well as an ability to use ‘active listening’.
What do we mean by this phrase? Well, it involves giving the person speaking to you some feedback about what is being said, asking questions, prompting for clarifications about certain points, as well as using other techniques to demonstrate that you have clearly understood what has been said. For example, at some point in the conversation the ‘speaker’ might say something like: “I need the project to be completed by 8th June”. To ensure this is clear you could ask for clarification, for example, by asking: “So am right in saying you need it by 8th June, and is there a particular reason why this date is important to you?”
Understanding the speaker, who could be a client or an employer, will allow you to understand the reason behind certain decisions, like why the project needs to be finished by a certain date. This knowledge should empower you, allowing you to talk about alternative dates and other factors that might impact on your ability to meet the given deadline. This may also give you the insight you need to negotiate for additional resources to fulfil your obligations, as well as helping you to manage and prioritise your workload effectively.
The key thing is to avoid conflict. Negotiation isn’t about getting your own way 100% of the time, but it is about persuading the other party that what you want out of the discussion is both valid and beneficial to you both. Ideally you should work on finding a ‘win-win’ compromise, while gaining as much as you can out of the negotiations. To do that you need to listen, think about what has been said and then speak using phraseology that engages rather than offends the other party.
To begin your steps towards becoming a good negotiator and communicator, use the following tips:
- Be aware of your personal style of communication. Self-awareness will help you to leave a long lasting, and hopefully positive impression with other people.
- Pay attention to what the speaker is saying by nodding, while looking directly at the person. Also try and put aside thoughts that distract you, as well ignoring other conversation or noise that may occur nearby, while also watching the speaker’s body language.
- Use your own body language to demonstrate that you are listening, and say things like “I see” or “ah yes” and “that’s interesting, please go on”.
- Try repeating the speakers words in your head if you are finding it hard to concentrate on what is being said in order to avoid drifting off.
- Provide comments that offer feedback, such as “It sounds like you’re saying…” or “What I think you’re saying is…” You can also summarise the speaker’s comments.
- Avoid constantly interrupting the speaker and allow them to finish. If you do continually interrupt you could fail to understand what is being said, as well as frustrating the speaker, will leads to a lack of understanding and empathy.
- Respond accordingly and in a respectful manner. You will gain nothing by scoring points against the speaker, but you should still be candid and honest about your responses. You can assert yourself, but in a non-offensive manner.
- Treat the other party in the same way that you would like to be treated.
To gain that new sale, pay rise or promotion it will take a lot of determination. By practising active listening you will be half-way towards gaining what you set out to achieve, though you may need to break some old habits to improve your communication and negotiation skills. With these competencies you can become more influential, which can only be a good thing for your career prospects.
- Building Confidence in Your Negotiating Skills, BNET
- Active listening – what people are really saying, MindTools
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